Helicopter Managers

4 min readApr 19, 2024
Are you coaching your people to be self-sufficient, or are you swooping in and “helping”?

In this story: How to get out of your own way — and everybody else’s — and become a great sales manager.

Written by Maria Edelson, Founder & CEO of Edelson

The sales world is full of Helicopter Managers.

They usually get promoted to management after being real superstars as individual salespeople. But once they become the boss, they struggle to actually BE the boss. They’re stuck in their old role.

The truth comes out when I ask Individual Contributors how often their boss joins them at a customer call. The answer is usually something like, “As little as possible. I try to avoid it.”

Holy cow.

Then, they tell me a story that goes something like this:

I’m in the meeting with the customer. I own the customer. I’m prepared. And the meeting is going great. But then, all of a sudden, the customer says, “Well, I’m not sure.” And that’s like the end of the meeting for me. My boss takes over the whole presentation, saying, “Well, tell me what your concern is. Do you have a problem with pricing? Do you have a problem with our timing? Do you have a problem with our terms? How many other people are involved in the bid? Have you spoken to anybody else? Who else?” Sometimes my boss closes the deal, but sometimes we leave empty-handed.

Then they leave the meeting, and the boss says “What happened there? Why didn’t you close?” The IC, feeling totally overwhelmed, wants to say, “I don’t know, I didn’t get a chance to try!”

Of course, they’re too nervous to say something like that, so they really don’t find out what happened there. They are not getting coached. They aren’t learning new skills or what they could’ve done better or differently. Why? Because they don’t get the chance to make their own mistakes so they can learn from them. And worse, their boss keeps doing their job for them. So now there are two people doing one job. Ugh!

I’ve heard this story so many times! And every time I hear it, I think about my own experience. I had a wonderful manager who worked with me for 20 years. His name was Joe.

Before we went into a call, Joe and I always knew our roles. I owned the customer, so I was going to do most of the talking.

If I needed help during the meeting, I’d turn to him and say, “Joe, what do you think?”

That’s when he would speak. When he was done, he’d say, “Maria, is that helpful?”

And then I knew it was my turn to take over again. Otherwise, Joe wouldn’t interrupt. He let me own the meeting.

Joe’s role was to support me, coach me, not to do my job. At the end of the meeting, I’d say to the customer, “If you have any questions that you’d like to ask our Vice President of Sales, Joe would be happy to discuss them with you.”

That’s when he might talk a little bit, and then he’d say, “You know, Maria is my best sales manager, she is responsible for the eastern half of the United States. You’re lucky to have her! If you have any questions, call Maria.”

So, whenever those customers had questions, they’d always call Maria. Joe had directed them to Maria. They knew it was Maria’s job to take care of them and their questions. Joe expected Maria to do her job, and Joe went home and did his job.

Joe knew I was capable and self-sufficient because he had coached me over the years. I was confident because I knew he had confidence in me.

We were two people doing two jobs — not two people doing one job!

What’s the moral of these stories?

Most managers can’t help but intervene. But being a Helicopter Manager is exactly how you lose a deal — and undermine your ICs.

As a manager, it’s important to figure out how to get out of the way. And then instead of doing their job, invest that time in coaching them to do their own job.

You need to coach them, let them fail, and get to the point where you know they’re trained, capable, and self-sufficient.

Are you coaching your salespeople? Are you letting your salespeople learn?

Or are you taking over when you shouldn’t?

Feedback is a gift. Let us know what you think about this story in the comments below.

This brings us to the end of Sales Bites, our 12-part series of stories from 35 years of sales experience with P&G and from training 13,000 sales executives globally. We hope you found value in each story.

As I consider writing more in the future, I’d love to know what topics are of interest to you. What issues are you facing? What questions would you like to ask? Email them to me anytime at

Finally, if you’re looking to reignite your sales, we can help! Visit to get started.




Edelson helps the world’s top brands sell more and get results through our comprehensive and industry-customizable training programs.